In this fourth book of the Swords & Stones series, Cal and his wives set off for Rome to investigate the trouble their new delivery lads have got themselves into with the gangs that run the port at Ostia. When the news is not so good, they are left with no real option other than to set up their own port outside the city.
Next, they venture to the familiar territory of the northern border river with the prospect of feasting and dancing in mind. After surviving an encounter with a military patrol and a quick chariot race for Sara, they find their Barbarian friends and prepare for a welcome trade meeting. Things turn sour when a new clan arrive and don’t want to participate and two of the crew sample too much cooking wine and sleep through the excitement. The rest of the trip now overshadowed by these events and plans made to settle the situation to prevent future trouble.
After so much excitement, Cal wants a trip without so much trouble so the crew sail to Tunis to see their camel man and follow his request for help. Days of desert travel bring them to his home and the quest is revealed - finding the Home of the Moon.
For once it is Cal that knows the secret, but he helps Miena and they travel to find the site. Days of riding camels in the desert brings the whole crew to uncover the greatest stone site they have ever seen.
The perils of writing a series. I had too many details left to sort from the end of the last book and nowhere to put them to keep a time-line but the opening chapter for this book. Lesson learnt. The first chapter of book 5 is already settled and it starts with action -
“You’re taking armed battle chariots to Rome painted in your colours?” Maxim was in full flight. “You’ve been in the desert too long and been touched with the sun.”
“They said he was full of sand,” Sara said, pointing at Cal, pleased it wasn’t her in trouble.
Each book in the series tends to bring out more details of one character. In this book, it’s Miena, the boss wife. First it’s Cal telling of his long held desire that she be the mother of his children, and while Miena also has the desire to a degree, her real passion is for power, and later events show how far that desire extends. Cal is recruited to help her convince the others to join her quest, and in this book, two more agree.
My favourite part of this book is near the beginning when the crew take Victor’s family to the beach. The scene with Cal and Victor’s mother and what follows. The idea of setting the girls up with the chariot service followed easily from this.
Apart from place names, I’ve avoided using Roman words but I weakened when it came to the rat catching cattus. Even though these stories are complete fantasy, I do keep some parts linked to the times, and around this era, cats were not that common in the Empire. I chose to keep the Roman name - cuttus to emphasise that rarity and the cats the crew did acquire came from the area around Egypt and had the colours of the Abyssinian breed we know today.
I can't resist showing you my cuttus helper, Masie.
Sara was always going to get to race camels, the only problem is she never bothered to learn the words to make them stop. Cal surprised himself by becoming attached to an animal more deeply than he expected. While I did leave the ending a little open, he will be reunited with that camel in the next book.